The 12/20 edition of WWE Smackdown landed on an interesting date. The company needed to continue moving storylines forward, but with the distraction of the holidays keeping a good portion of the audience from truly getting emotionally invested, WWE needed to do enough to keep things fresh without giving away the build to the Royal Rumble when eyeballs would be elsewhere.
It would have been easy to give us a throwaway show. To their credit, however, WWE put together a mostly solid and at times, entertaining episode with some good wrestling across the two hour broadcast.
*Big E. Langston vs. Jack Swagger. A good match that continued putting the spotlight on Langston, who showed some fiery offense. The pairing of Langston as the upstart powerhouse with Mark Henry as the veteran giving his nod of approval works really well. This was exactly what it needed to be - a match that allowed the audience to discover Langston and hopefully get behind him in his current role. Swagger was very good in his role as well. The one thing WWE missed out on was pushing that Langston had just defeated a former World champion, but the way Swagger's run with that title was handled, that may be for the best.
*AJ Lee on commentary. While Brie Bella vs. Tamina was anything but a strong bout in the ring, Lee nailed some pretty good lines while joining the announcers. When Brie's engagement to Daniel Bryan was mentioned Lee asked if that was supposed to make her the number one contender. When she was asked about being on Total Divas, she responded that she had a good childhood and didn't need to chase attention. Lee wasn't as polished as WWE might prefer in a perfect world but you can see something there.
*Sin Cara vs. Drew McIntyre. Although McIntyre, from an in-ring potential standpoint, certainly deserves more than his 3MB positioning, this was a great showcase for Cara V2.0. There was a good rhythm to the bout, some nice action and the crowd looked into the dives. Whether WWE can get some momentum behind Cara remains to be seen, but they did everything right here.
*WWE Tag Team title bout. Before the match had even started, I was ready to write that this worked, because The Wyatts exude the one thing that is missing in some many wrestlers today - there is an aura of danger to them because, just like the likes of Kevin Sullivan and Abdullah the Butcher in previous generations, they look like burly, out of their minds psychos. There's a difference between playing the role and being one with the role and the Wyatts are certainly the latter. Beyond that, lots of really good work in this match. Eric Rowan is improving every week and had some great aggressive offense you'd expect a nutcase to attempt. Harper is a hell of a workhorse with some good charisma coming out more and more. Cody has never seemed more comfortable in the ring and his role, while Goldust is the best working veteran in the company and was great as the hero in jeopardy trying to fight his way out, so Cody gets the hot tag and the rub of being the guy to save the day. The Wyatts getting the win sets up rematches and I can't wait to see them. Then, Daniel Bryan making the save at the end made perfect sense from a storyline standpoint. Everything about this on every level worked. Kudos to all involved.
*Kofi Kingston vs. Fandango. A solid showing from both with a fine finishing sequence leading to Fandango's win.
*The Wyatt's attack on Daniel Bryan. It was shot perfectly and made it look like they had literally, just tried to, well, murder Bryan, adding to the drama of their storyline with him and to the main event, which was now a handicap match. While I am at the point I detest seeing the handicap matches on WWE, at least here they gave a good, logical reason for it taking place.
*The main event. It wasn't anything we haven't seen before with all these players but it was a fun back and forth main event. Big E. Langston making the save at the end and having a moment where he and Roman Reigns stared down each other made me wonder if we were seeing something teased for down the line. The announcers did a nice job teasing issues between the Shield as well with JBL calling out Michael Cole and basically claiming Cole's sources that there were problems were Cole just quoting things he himself were making up.
*Most of the opening segment. As a set up for the six man main event with The Shield facing Punk, Bryan and Cena, it was fine, even if it was the same sort of set up we've seen endless times before. However....
*Daniel Bryan being treated as secondary at the start of the show. I'm sure WWE will disagree on this point, but seriously, how many times does Cena have to talk up Bryan? He hands him title shots, he issues challenges for Bryan and now Bryan wants Cena to win the WWE World title so he can have a rematch? Uh, how about going and being a man and fighting for the belt, challenging for the belt and stepping up yourself, Bryan? Unless they are building to Cena getting slapped upside the head by a frustrated Bryan down the line, it makes no sense that Cena, as opposed to Bryan, is out there running down Orton over what happened at Raw with the lowblow DQ. THEN, when Daniel Bryan finally does arrive, he rips Orton for knowing he can't beat him and the big finish to that promo is BRYAN telling ORTON that he can't wait for JOHN CENA TO BEAT ORTON, because then Bryan will get his clean rematch? Seriously, what the hell? When Bryan needs someone to defend him and needs someone else to accomplish his goal, it emasculates him to the audience, whether WWE means to be booking him that way or not. It's not even that the segment, which might be teasing an eventual three-way, was bad, as everyone was fine on the mic - but the underlying message that Bryan is #3 in the race and needs to wait for things to change, as opposed to ever changing them himself. That sends the message that he's not the man. Well, tell that to the audience because that's not how they see him. They see him as a top guy. WWE should present him as such, not as John Cena's little buddy. Unless this is designed to go somewhere, it's silly and dilutes Bryan.
*Brie Bella vs. Tamina. They were really trying in there but there were a few moments where it was only a second or two from looking "bowling shoe ugly." Bella tries really hard but there are times where she does things a little too early and other moments where she looks like she's about to really hurt herself. Tamina is best spotlighted when she's a brute in the ring and there wasn't enough of that here.
*Miz vs. Damien Sandow. A nothing match that served as the backdrop for the "Christmas may be canceled" silliness.
What We Learned:
*Brodus Clay isn't a main event player yet. When they turn you and your first ring entrance as a villain isn't even on the broadcast, that isn't a good sign they are invested in the turn. When you lose that match in less then five minutes without getting a chance to look like the monster everyone has always expected you to be and then get run off by the NXT rookie, two dancing girls and your former partner...well, that's a sign they are absolutely not invested in the turn. Not a good sign for Clay, who certainly deserved better.
*You can be thrown off the docking bay of an Arena to the concrete outside, then taken to a trainer's room before they transport you to a hospital. WWE actually said this was what was happening with Daniel Bryan, as opposed to playing it up as this heavy duty incident where Bryan's health was at stake. That sounds like what should be a heavy duty angle won't be followed up on strongly. If that's the case, that's a shame.
*"Mark Henry looks to save Christmas for all of us." Yes, that was actually said on commentary by Michael Cole. Uh, God bless us, everyone? This Raw might be a little tough to swallow!